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Will the Biden administration approve a ban on menthol cigarettes?

In April 2021, the Biden administration announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes. But three years later, the new rule is still pending.
Will the Biden administration approve a ban on menthol cigarettes?
Posted at 3:34 PM, Mar 29, 2024

For the past 15 years, the Food and Drug Administration has been trying to reign in an industry that was largely unregulated for decades – tobacco. Now the Biden administration is on the verge of taking another major step aimed at protecting public health, but politics could get in the way.

In April 2021, the Biden administration announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes. But three years later, the new rule is still pending.

The FDA proposed the rule thanks to the Tobacco Control Act of 2009. That law gave the agency the power to regulate the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of tobacco products. That law also banned all flavored cigarettes, with one exception.

"Of all the flavored cigarettes that were characterizing tobacco products at the time of the 2009 Act, menthol was the one with the most addictive potential, said Yolonda Richardson, the president and CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "And it was the one that was in fact left on the market."

Tobacco companies have spent decades aggressively marketing menthol in Black communities. A 2020 study estimated 80% of African American smokers choose menthol.

SEE MORE: Should the government crack down on nicotine?

"The chemistry of menthol is really quite specific. It cools the throat as it goes down and it makes it much easier to consume. It also goes deeper into the lungs, making it much more addictive," Richardson explained.

Anti-smoking advocates like Richardson, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others say the science is clear on the dangers of smoking and the role menthol plays in getting people addicted to nicotine. But efforts to ban menthol in cigarettes have been delayed repeatedly and across multiple presidential administrations. Richardson says the tobacco lobby has played a big role in those delays, but so has politics.

"The further we get into the political season, the harder it is to do what people may perceive as something tough to do," Richardson said.

Support from the Black community will be crucial for President Joe Biden's 2024 re-election efforts. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids shows a majority of black Americans support a menthol ban, and those results track with other studies going back to 2009.

"The Biden administration, if it's committed to cancer reduction, as it has articulated in terms of its moonshot Initiative, then this is the most effective and most important thing you can do to begin to address that concern. Tobacco use still is the number one cause of cancer deaths in this country," said Richardson.

It's up to the White House Office of Management and Budget to approve the final rule. That was supposed to happen in August 2023, then it was delayed to December 2023, and then it was delayed till March 2024. OMB declined to comment for this story. It's unclear when or if the Biden administration will take the last step needed to ban menthol cigarettes.

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